As A film geek, I was quite excited when I met ranger Matt Madill, ready to hop into his Jeep for my tour of Black Park, which has featured in many blockbuster movies.
Matt has worked for Black Park for five years, and has led film walks around the park for the past four.
“Another ranger held the walks before, so when I was asked to take over I thought it’d be a good thing to do,” he said. “I’m a film fan so it was a natural fit.”
We were barely out the gate from the office, when Matt pulled over. To our right was gloomy, looming woodland, to the left, a bright open space.
“That’s Dark Wood,” he said. “Most people know it from Harry Potter.”
I peered closer. There were, of course, no signs of huge spiders or dragons, but this particular patch of woodland was home to scenes from the Goblet of Fire and Chamber of Secrets films.
“The dragons were in cages and there was fire, which was interesting for health and safety,” said Matt. “We don’t want the wood burnt down.”
He told me the Goblet of Fire dragons were mechanical and their skins were reused from the basilisk giant serpent in Chamber of Secrets.
The flying Ford Anglia car hurtled through the Black Park pines as Ron and Harry tried to escape the clutches of Aragog the spider.
“They had three or four different cars,” said Matt. “There was a rally version, one with a fake dog in it and one with an automatic door when Harry nearly falls out.”
More recently, scenes from Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp, were filmed in the park last year.
“Last year was a good year,” said Matt as we pulled away, passing an open expanse of land that looked like it was having work done to it.
It was transformed into a gypsy camp for Wolf Man, has been an army base for a Bond film and the site of Hagrid’s Hut in Harry Potter stories.
The latest transformation was for a castle for Disney’s Cinderella, which means reinstatement work now has to be carried out.
Matt said: “It takes a lot of work, because they built foundations for a castle. They always have to put the land back to the way it was.”
What has gone unsaid so far is how top secret the film projects are – which can prove difficult when a colossal castle rises in the park.
“The film people want us to keep things confidential until the film is released,” said Matt. “We couldn’t say at the time Disney was filming here, but really everyone knew and you couldn’t miss the castle when you passed by.”
With a shrug of his shoulders at the strangeness of the film world, we carried on rumbling down the track through a canopy of trees, which he told me was called Peace Road.
The tall trees overhang, creating a tunnel effect which is popular with film companies.
“Peace Road is often used because of its look,” Matt added. “It’s like a Bavarian Wood. It looks like it could be anywhere, from Eastern Europe to the UK.”
As we drove down the long stretch I could see what he meant. Jack Ryan and James Bond also filmed there.
Matt showed me some stills the rangers have kept from past films. Flipping through the images I stopped at one of a large steam train that looked familiar. Matt he explained my sense of deja vu.
“See, that’s Peace Road,” he said. “No one realises that’s really Harry Potter’s Hogsmeade Station.”
Seeing my shocked expression, Matt laughed. “It was quite impressive and normally someone has to have it pointed out.
“It’s the sheer scale of it that people just can’t see how it was done. This was a blockbuster though.
“We had a working railway there. They laid down the track and built the station from scratch.”
The train was so large, the A412 had to be closed to allow the vehicle carrying it to turn into Black Park.
Matt again pointed behind us, drawing my attention to a gate on the edge of the park. “Pinewood Studios have their own access,” he said.
“That’s a big bonus for filmmakers, as the scenery and equipment for big films can come through there. It’s less disruptive and easier for them.”
I asked whether having Pinewood so close was partly to thank for the constant influx of film crews to the park.
“Being next to Pinewood helps, but we also get people from London,” Matt said. “We’re on filmmakers’ radars as a filming location in our own right too.”
Black Park, which is owned by Bucks County Council, aims to make £140,000 a year from fees for filming. “That’s the target,” said Matt. “We don’t always make it but last year it was easier, as we had quite a few films.
“Filming is good for us as it raises funds. It keeps the place going.”
Filming fees are the park’s second largest source of income, the first being parking fees.
We carried on the tour and arrived at a crossroads. I spotted where Kenneth Branagh got shot in his latest film, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, as we turned and passed another open space.
“This is a protected piece of land,” said Matt. “There are certain areas we advise people that they can’t use because they are protected parts of the park.”
If film-makers want to use such special wildlife areas, Matt said, they had to go to the ‘powers that be’ – Natural England.
Snow White and the Henchman created a trench there, but only because they got permission,” he said.
Driving further down we saw the lake. Matt smiled and pointed out a clearing with a few logs in it nothing much to the average onlooker, but he seemed to look at it quite fondly.
“We had Keanu Reeves filming here for 47 Ronin and I got to meet him. It was unusual for me, as we let them get on with things normally. That’s my claim to fame any way.”
He added that Reeves was a nice, and humble, person.
We approach the lakeside, which has played host to scenes from Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood and Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott.
“One side of the lake shows the wide vistas – it’s that Jurassic Park look – the other is woodland and is darker,” said Matt.
“This area by the lake was really popular with the Hammer horror films back in the 50s. The dark woods and creepy bits by the lake were perfect for those films.”
Matt reminded me how paparazzi photographers are so keen to catch a glimpse of stars.
“We had the paps trying to get in for Prometheus and trying to get around the lake to see what was going on,” he says. “But any photos in Black Park are copyright of the park – that’s how we get round the paparazzi in theory.”
There are always exceptions of course. “When Keira Knightley was here for London Boulevard they were all here trying to get a photo.
“People are always surprised when they hear about the efforts movie makers go to,” he added.
“I like telling people the facts on the film walks we do. They’ve become so popular now, we have two a year. It has to change and adapt as we get new films in.”
Pulling back around to the gate, I hopped from the cab and waved goodbye to Matt.
It was almost a shock to the system to see signs to Fulmer as I drove away.
Then I shook off the imaginary world I had briefly inhabited and stepped back into reality, determined to return for the next film walk.
For details of the walks and the other facilities in Black Park, visit the leisure and culture section of www.buckscc.gov.uk.